If you look
for the definition on the web-based Urban
Dictionary of a “smooth operator,” the meaning comes up as “someone who
tends to be on top of things, and is usually
in control of any given situation.”
That is the
essence of what will come to your mind if
you have the opportunity to meet with Mr.
Huxiang Zhao, who served as FIATA President
between 2015 and 2017.
This is indeed
a man in control, believe me.
In the silky
smooth Sade song with the same title, the
lyrics suggest that “his heart is cold,”
but in this case your impression will be totally
tranquil presence has always been pleasantly
warm in winter, but gently cool in the heat.
left behind, our meetings always carried a
sense of complete accomplishment, which is
pretty rare: quite a remarkable impression,
considering we are talking of a person who
heads one of the global logistics behemoths.
A Powerhouse Patient & Wise
In my previous
job in FIATA, I had personally been exposed
to Mr. Zhao’s wise words and serene
requests during the long period he was at
the helm of the organization.
This has been
a fruitful learning experience for me, and
it left a sweet memory of my tenure in Zurich.
As Chairman Of Giant Sinotrans
has been Chairman of Sinotrans & CSC Holdings
Co. Ltd since 2011 and he remains as Senior
Advisor to China Merchants Group, where he
occupied the position of Vice Chairman between
2016 and this year. His role in Sinotrans
had been on the rise since 2005; he landed
into this crucial position from his previous
experiences in the Maritime Bureau of the
Chinese Ministry of Communications, the Hoi
Tung Trading Company as well as other enterprises
subordinate to China Merchants.
His feet firmly
on the seas, his first love in business, delving
into finances, Mr. Zhao has deployed all the
skills he had learnt both in Chinese and U.S.
The list of
his vital positions is endless, and I shall
have to leave it behind in this short article,
but it is without doubt a big deal indeed.
Of The World
to give you an idea of what kind of business
we are talking about, as the second-tier subsidiary
and single logistics platform for China Merchants
Group (CMG), Sinotrans Limited is among the
top ten freight forwarder and third-party
logistics enterprises in the world; it aims
to build a world-class business platform with
intelligent logistics services.
By the end of
2017, Sinotrans had total assets of 62 billion
Yuan, net assets of 25 billion Yuan and a
total of 23,971 employees.
This is just
one of President Zhao’s tasks, as I
learned later on, because he handles without
sweat other comparable number of chores in
other areas of the massive CMG, the Chinese
leading enterprise in transportation, finance
handles all of that alongside his involvement
and fine work for FIATA, CIFA, the national
association, and some top level participation
at the UN.
with those kinds of responsibilities might
appear overburdened, tense or nervous.
Zhao, he is always immaculately prepared,
serene and ready to listen: he always finds
the time for your questions: a smooth operator
& Road Builds Future
I asked President
Zhao where his Group’s plans stood in
terms of the new rail connections with Europe
that have been so powerfully promoted by the
Belt and Road concept and he has quickly produced
impressive strategy and figures:
he said,” started offering block trains
in July 2015; after three years’ development,
a full network was achieved, covering five
areas (South China, Central China, North China,
Northeast China and Yangtze River), and three
major international routes (East route via
Manzhouli, Middle route via Erenhot and West
route via Alashankou/Horgos).
investment has formed a broad network of domestic
and foreign block trains, allowing Sinotrans
to become a rare multi-route and multi-line
block train operator in China.
launched 34 routes in three years, offering
weekly train services from main Chinese cities
such as Shilong, Shenyang, Changsha, Xi’an,
and others to Germany, Poland, Belarus, Hungary,
Iran, Vietnam and Central Asian countries.
Sinotrans moved 451 international block trains,
carrying 36,244 TEU’s through the first
half of 2018, showing a growth rate of 153%.”
result was mentioned by President Zhao almost
casually, then he continued by saying that
“Sinotrans’s strategy and the
overall target is to work deeply on the Belt
and Road market, to offer competitive end-to-end
supply chain services by establishing a sound
international and domestic multimodal transport
One might understand
the dichotomy between the impression of understatement
in his discourse and the magnitude of the
results if one bears in mind that Chinese
people perceive life in the perspective of
their millenary history and the continental
dimension of their national territory.
international are adjectives that describe
markets with comparable sizes in this case
and it should not be surprising that both
have the same importance.
Up Brimming Confidence
confidence in his country’s results
does not impede his perception of the challenges,
which he described as follows:
are now able to efficiently serve geographical
areas that are comparatively far away from
sea ports at both ends of the chain, along
with the rapid growth of China-Europe trains,
we are facing some congestion issues, which
may cause delays, because the border station
infrastructure is not always up to date in
some of the countries and customs regions
we are traversing.
of the coordinated border management, of which
Customs is a great part, the exchange of data
and the performance of the transhipment areas
need to be further improved,” President
precisely describes one of the aspects, which
have been targeted by the Chinese “Belt
and Road” initiative which is starting
to produce quite tangible results as China-Europe
block trains’ volumes have increased
most immediate results came in trade lanes
that were already suitable for this kind of
innovative service: “high-value electronic
products, industrial manufactured cargos (e.g.
automobiles), perishable goods or short shelf
life fast selling products (e.g. foodstuff),
industrial parts, such as completely knocked
down (CKD) parts for automobile production
lines and import of auto parts” were
cited among the first ones.
This is clearly
just one of the areas of business served by
Sinotrans through block trains, but its innovative
potential made it worth mentioning over and
above the many other ones.
At Work Smooth & Easy
By now you have
probably understood what I meant when I described
President Zhao as a “smooth operator.”
I started with
the intention to celebrate President Zhao’s
extraordinary personality, however within
a short time I was led by his calm discourse
into a miniature dissertation on innovative
No sweat, it
was smooth and easy, as it always is with
President Zhao, who is today the Immediate
Past President of FIATA. In such role he will
attend the FIATA
World Congress in Delhi at the end of
September together with other Presidency members
to meet with persons of such caliber cannot
be missed, so my advice is to start making
your reservation on the Congress website,
book the best airfare you can find in today’s
huge airlines’ marketplace and get there
in the front line on time to benefit from
this great opportunity.
Zhao presents Geoffrey his exclusive
FIATA Fellow Certificate on March
16, at a lovely dinner inside
a 700 year-old restaurant near
FIATA headquarters in Zurich,
Switzerland. Geoffrey is the only
individual from outside the FIATA
membership in the organization’s
90-year history to be recognized
in this manner.
I am running to a
breakfast appointment in Terminal One
at Frankfurt Airport earlier this summer.
Scooting out of the Sheridan Hotel that
is attached to T1, I run into a gaggle
of German business suits and, smack
dab in the middle is Mr. Zhao.
He stops, looks at
me and says:
“What are you
My immediate reply
is, “I guess that we are everywhere.”
Zhao likes that, and
smiles and gives me a couple minutes,
“It might be
difficult to imagine how a Chinese man
became President of FIATA, but the organization
is truly international and global in
scope and is well prepared and, most
importantly in touch with the world
market of today and tomorrow.
“I became involved
with FIATA via membership and my eventual
move as Chairman of the Chinese International
Freight Forwarders Association (CIFA).
“In China today
there are more than 35,000 registered
freight forwarding companies,”
Mr. Zhao said.
President is a long process, involving
time and attention for several years,
and is the result of CIFA’s enhanced
cooperation at the international level,
of which I am particularly proud,”
Mr. Zhao added.
“We have a vast
policy agenda and we are successfully
working on it, and despite limited resources,
we have the future of FIATA in our minds
and our hearts,” Mr. Zhao said.